Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
We have been looking at the third chapter of the Sermon, and uncovered some uncomfortable truths about judging. The most uncomfortable is the reaction of the Lord to us, should we feel the need to judge someone else. But then there are also the cautionary words of Jesus about those who will judge us when we share the truth, and that the judgement will come from within the church as well as from those in the world. I think it is wise to include, in your daily prayers, requests for both wisdom and protection.
Now we look at the next section of the Sermon which, in the NIV, has the heading “Ask, seek, knock.” This portion of scripture is one of the best known parts of all scripture, and is even popular with those who have not given their lives to Christ. But it is worth examining this with fresh eyes and with an understanding of the context.
I don’t know about you, but for me… Well I just feel such a sense of gratitude each and every time I read these words! They help to make clear the great fatherly love of our heavenly Father for his children.
But there is the context to take into account. This text is not a blanket statement that God will give you anything and everything! You have been praying for something, and claiming the promise of these words, and yet your prayers have not been answered? Well maybe, just maybe, it is because you have taken a text out of context…
Just a few verses before this was a long section about not worrying, because we are cared for by our heavenly Father if we are His children. And in that section Jesus speaks specifically about food, drink and clothing. I tend to include together with this a roof over the head , but strictly speaking I do not have scriptural authority to do so. But in countries less warm than the Holy Land, this can be a necessity as equal as food, drink and clothing.
Then, even in this passage of scripture, Jesus uses the example of a child asking for food. So, do we need to have the context made even more obvious? As far as I can see, the “Ask and it will be given” is quite specifically, in context, about the obvious care that the Father takes for His children. And, unless you are called to have a martyr’s suffering, we can trust that we will have food, drink and clothing. But it is good to ask.
Those of us who are parents, or who visit homes with small children, know how readily a child comes to a parent and simply says, “I’m hungry.” Or maybe, “I’m thirsty.” Or even, “I’m cold.” They know instinctively that it is the job of the parent to do something about this. They are also not going to let the fact that there are guests in the home interfere with making these things known to the parent. They will make these things known even if the queen was in the living room talking with mum and dad!
And Jesus says that, despite that we are evil, we know how to answer these things in a good way. (Actually, as an aside, doesn’t this make it seem even more despicable when a parent ignores these pleas from a small child? Or worse, becomes angry because of them.)
I want to pick up on that word ‘evil’ for a moment. We can take this as a negative judgement on all mankind, and in one sense that is exactly what it is. But it is also a pointer to the gospel message, the message that has been very much a part of the interpretation of every part of the Sermon.
So what is this? Why use the word ‘evil’? It is because, to gain access to the Father and to be His children, we can only approach in righteousness and without sin. But who is without sin? There is only one who is righteous, only one who is good enough, and only one who has admission to the Father. This one is Jesus. And my sin pinned him to the cross of Calvary. And your sin also caused him to die there, that cruel death of the cross.
You can’t gain access to the Father by obedience to the Law, because you can’t work your way into heaven. Indeed, the apostle Paul explained that he had every reason to be proud of obedience to the Law and the Prophets, but that it counted for absolutely nothing. Indeed it was worse than nothing and is, to him, as filthy rags to be clothed with before the Father. And in the original, this was a reference to soiled menstrual cloths, which to any Jew marks spiritual uncleanliness.
To gain access to the Father and to become His children, we must reckon ourselves as dead with Christ on the cross. I even find it helpful to imagine that it is my sin that put the nail through his hand and caused him agony. I deserved that death, not him… But as I reckon my life dead with Christ on that cross, so I am raised with him into new life. Now I am in Christ, covered in his righteousness. This is not the filthy rags of my own works, but the beautiful white garments of Christ’s righteousness, with which I can confidently approach the Father and say, “Daddy.” From that moment I am His son and He is my Father.
And in this way, He will care for me as a Father for his children. And the most important part of that is to make sure that the child has food, drink and clothing. If you are hungry, ask and it will be given. If you are thirsty, ask. If your clothes are wearing out, ask. If you are cold, ask.
It can be that in your situation there is another need that is equally as basic. If so, then ask. The Father loves you more than you can ever imagine, and He will care for you.
But this is not a blanket promise in this verse to ask for anything and to expect it to be given. The context is everything here! I am not twisting scripture. What would be truly twisting scripture is to take the words, “Ask and it will be given” and to totally ignore the context and everything else that Jesus was talking about at the time. That would be irresponsible.
Listen, children can have desires but without wisdom.
They may see a program about wildlife on television, and notice that lion cubs are really cute. They can ask mummy and daddy to have a lion cub. What would be the wise thing for the loving parent to do here?
But it is more basic even than that. Children are not very old before they begin to notice other children in other families. They notice that other children have other toys that they don’t have themselves at home. They notice that other children seem to have a good time playing with those toys, or that simply those toys look rather good. So it is not long before the request is made to mummy and daddy to have one of those toys.
Here is the situation where mummy and daddy have the wisdom (or, as I have sadly observed with some parents, need the extra wisdom) that the child does not have. But the heavenly Father has even more wisdom.
I have been a schoolteacher and I have seen that, sometimes, the parents have barely any more wisdom than the child when it comes to these things. I have seen toys bought in response to this kind of desire from the child. And let’s face it – this request has come purely and simply out of envy. Now, how well do you know the ten commandments? I seem to recall that there was something about envy in that part of scripture.
So, should the Father, who gave a command against envy, answer the request based on envy? And what does this say about the parenting that we so often witness in the world? Are we teaching, without realising it, that it is OK to be envious and that we should have things simply because we see other people have certain things?
As you can see, there is so much more to this parent and child relationship. It is wonderful to be in the family where the Lord is our Father, but he is a good Father who will do the parenting part in the right way!
This is only a small part of today’s text, and so much to think about… So of course we will return to this in the next study to see what more we can learn.